Falling Warrior may for many evoke a scene from the Trojan War as recounted in in Homer's The Iliad, or King Leonidas and his small band battling Xerxes' hordes at the pass of Thermopylae, and while its powerful symbolism extends beyond such fabled historicism into the events and sensibility of our own era, Moore's idea clearly had its origin in classic Greek sculpture (fig. 1). In fact, only a few years before Moore began work on the plaster model for Falling Warrior, he traveled to Greece for the first time, on the occasion of the first exhibition of his work in that country, at the Zappeion Gallery in Athens. In 1961 Moore recalled this journey in a conversation with John Russell:
"My first visit to Greece came late in life--it was 1951, when I was fifty-three--and I thought before going that I knew about Greek art, because I'd been brought up on it, and that I might even be disappointed. But not at all, of course. I'd say that four or five of my top ten or twelve visual experiences came in Greece. For example, Mycenae had a tremendous impact. I felt that I understood Greek tragedy and--well, the whole idea of Greece--much, much more completely than ever before... And the Greek landscape was another revelation for me--that stark, stony quality, with the feeling that the sea may be round the next corner. I can understand why they were sculptors--the stone just had to be used, it was the one thing they had to hand" (quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Berkeley, 2002, p. 69).
Moore's firsthand experience of Greece, and of seeing ancient sculpture and monuments in their indigenous settings, gave him cause to re-assess this tradition, the source common to all Western sculpture, which at times in his early work he had made a serious effort to downplay and circumvent. Classical Greek sculpture now had a renewed impact on his work, which is apparent in the draped reclining figures and torsos of 1952-1953. He then commenced the studies and maquettes that resulted in Warrior with Shield, 1953-1954 (Lund Humphries, no. 360; fig. 2). Moore wrote in a letter dated 15 January 1955:
"The idea for The Warrior came to me at the end of 1952 or very early in 1953. It was evolved from a pebble I found on the seashore in the summer of 1952, and which reminded me of the stump of a leg, amputated at the hip... First I added the body, leg and one arm and it became a wounded warrior, but at first the figure was reclining. A day or two later I added a shield and altered its position into a seated figure and so it changed from an inactive pose into a figure which, though wounded, is still defiant.
"The figure may be emotionally connected with one's feelings and thoughts about England during the crucial and early part of the last war. The position of the shield and its angle give protection from above..." (quoted in ibid., pp. 283-284).
John Russell noted that "these Greekish figures are among [Moore's] pieces in which his loyalty is given over entirely to bronze... to the quintessence of the material" (in op. cit., p. 159). The creation of Warrior with Shield proved to be a milestone for still another reason, as Moore has explained:
"Except for a short period when I did coal-mining drawings as a war artist, nearly all my figure sculpture and drawings, since being a student, has been of the female, except for the Family Groups, but there the man was part of the group. [Warrior with Shield] is the first single and separate male figure that I have done in sculpture and carrying it out in its final large scale was almost like the discovery of a new subject matter; the bony, edgy, tense forms were a great excitement to me" (ibid.).
Now that the male figure had finally made its appearance in his work, Moore elected not to treat it in a freely exploratory series of formal variations as he normally did in his reclining female figures, or as he would undertake later in his interpretation of landscape forms, which often assume a feminine aspect in his hands. Moore's conception of the male figure required instead that he imbue it with immediate and overwhelming expressive power that derived mainly from figure's clearly designated social function, in this case that of a fighting man, an activity that has sealed the subject's fate and rendered him a tragic figure. Male figures would appear again but infrequently in Moore's work, but when they do, the viewer is quickly alerted to the fact that these men herald a moment of supreme human drama, and they bear in their virile attitude and forms an especially weighty and portentous significance.
This is especially true of Falling Warrior, which is as convulsively tragic as Warrior with Shield is defiantly heroic. Here Moore lays down the terrible outcome of the warrior's combat, his struggle with an unseen adversary, in which he has done battle with no less than fate itself. Moore's progressive evolution of the warrior figure is very telling in his regard, for in it he has traced the three stages of a life cycle. As the sculptor mentioned above, he began the sculpture as a reclining figure, which he then sat upright, and now he has placed him in a prone position once again. During this time Moore was also working on a woman awakening from sleep, Reclining Figure (Lund Humphries, no. 402; a bronze cast sold, Christie's New York, 2 May 2006, lot 25), which he then carved in elm wood as an ascending Upright Figure (Lund Humphries, no. 403; fig. 3). The sculptor described the next step:
"In the Falling Warrior sculpture I wanted a figure that was still alive. The pose in the first maquette [Lund Humphries, no. 404; fig. 4] was that of a completely dead figure and so I altered it to make the action that of a figure in the act of falling, and the shield became a support for the warrior, emphasizing the dramatic moment that precedes death" (quoted in D. Mitchinson, ed., op. cit., p. 138).
While Warrior with Shield relates, as Moore has said, to the heroic defense of his homeland during the Second World War, the motivation behind Falling Warrior is less clear and Moore did not leave any recorded comments about it. This sculpture appears to have a broader significance beyond the commemoration in a generalized way of men, heroic or ordinary, who have fallen in war. Is this expiring military man perhaps Moore's warning against the dangers of the Cold War, the accelerating arms race, and the growing threat of nuclear annihilation? Might it be in part a tribute to the brave freedom fighters crushed by Soviet might during the failed Hungarian uprising in 1956? Or is Moore lamenting the passing of the individual as hero in an era of mass culture and social conformity? In light of the terrible events of the 20th century, is this the likely outcome of our age-old human quest for goodness, justice and freedom? It is just as well that Moore did not define his intent here, and leaves this entirely up to the viewer -- in this way the sculpture will continue to have a powerful impact and retain its currency. Will Grohman has written:
"Falling Warrior is so apt and rich in its details that in contemplating it, the observer's admiration for the sculptural achievement diverts his attention from the catastrophe. He remains caught up in the trance created by the combination of plastic and psychic values, by the discontinuity of the intersections, the rhythm imparted to movements and breaks in movement.
"This is how the chroniclers of the Trojan War saw heroes. The improbability and brutality of Moore's figure is beyond all topicality; the only contemporary element is the sculptor's language that competes with the language of the poem. Although there is nothing epic in the Falling Warrior, it contains the essence of the Homeric tale. Legend for legend, art for art, the arc spanning time is lost in the infinite, doing away in the presence of this figure the distinction between ancient and modern times, between poetry and sculpture" (in op. cit., p. 218).
Of the eleven bronze casts of Falling Warrior that Moore had cast at the Fiorini foundry, London, seven are currently in institutional collections, including the Tate, London; The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; The Art Institute of Chicago; Clare College, Cambridge, UK; The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK; Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich; and the Huddersfield Art Gallery, Kirklees Metropolitan Council, UK.
(fig. 1) Dying Warrior, from the temple of Aphaia on Aegina, circa 480 BC. Glyptotek, Munich. BARCODE 24402071
(fig. 2) Henry Moore, Warrior with Shield, 1953-1954. Photograph courtesy of the Henry Moore Foundation. BARCODE 24402040
(fig. 3) Falling Warrior in Moore's studio with Upright Figure, 1956 (lying on its side). Photograph courtesy of the Henry Moore Foundation. BARCODE 24402064
(fig. 4) Henry Moore, Maquette for Fallen Warrior, 1956. Photograph courtesy of the Henry Moore Foundation. BARCODE 24402057